October 28, 2008, 10:49 IST
I’m walking back from a session with my Hindi tutor and I must look particularly out of place today. A third rikshaw driver honks his whiny horn and veers toward me, offering his services as if I can’t see him, as if a tall, blond kid walking down the street in Pune must be looking for a cab. An elderly man hobbling along in the other direction stares at me as if my hair is on fire. Two teenage kids lean out of a bus as it sputters by and yell at me in Marathi, amused by something I can’t understand. A ragged, barefoot woman with a sickly infant appears out of nowhere, tugging on my sleeve, grabbing my hand, begging.
My impatience bubbles to the surface; I just want to be left alone. If just one of those encounters had pushed me a bit further, I might have justified the stereotype that Americans are rude and self-entitled, which would have only made matters worse.
As I walk, I keep thinking. What if I contended with such nuisances every day of my life? And what if they weren’t always so paltry? I wonder, would I learn to shrug them off? Grow a thick skin?
It dawns on me – in my life I’ve just skimmed the surface of understanding the concept of prejudice, of being treated differently because of how you look. Suddenly the concept takes on a new, more personal meaning.